Sermon for Trinity Sunday
While visiting one of the members of one of the congregations I served some years ago I was offered a cup of coffee and while I sat in the lounge room waiting I noticed something unusual. On a table there was what appeared to be a shrine. Inside was a Buddha statue with candles and flowers and food and other symbols. As we sipped coffee I asked about the display on the table expecting to hear a story about an overseas trip and souvenirs. Instead I heard a story about this person’s involvement in the cultic Japanese religion Mahikari and how she felt that what she was learning through this religion complimented and supported her Christian faith. She told me how it taught her about karma, reincarnation, ancestor worship and making food offerings to the spirits of the departed, and so on. She told me that Jesus’ brother, Isukiri, died in Jesus’ place on the cross and that Jesus went to Japan when he was 37 and he died there when he 106.
The amazing thing about all this, is that this person saw no conflict between what she confessed on Sunday mornings when she said the Apostles’ Creed with us and what she did the rest of the week as she prayed before the shrine in her lounge room.
This reminds me of the young man who asked
if he could go into the church to pray.
Before the pastor could respond he quickly added, “By the way, what kind
of church is this? Not that it
makes any difference. I don’t follow any
particular religion. Whenever I pass a
church or a mosque I go in say a prayer and plug into the divine.
Any God will do!”
“Plug into the divine”, like it is magic, a kind of pill that will keep us safe and sound.
But is it true that “any god will do”? Who is god, exactly? What can be known about him? Most people look at the natural world and reckon there must be a higher power, a creator. Even many scientists acknowledge that the universe is so exquisitely complex and so highly organized that there must be a Grand Designer.
I don’t know about you, but I am not
satisfied with just believing in some generic god out there somewhere.
I want to know more.
I want to know what God is like. And furthermore, I want to know what he thinks about me.
Does he know that I exist? And if so, does he care about me?
Does he care about my day-to-day problems, my worries, my fears? And can he help me?
Does he care how we live our lives? Does he place any demands on us? How can I know him?
What about the question of death? Don’t you wonder if there is anything for us beyond just this existence?
So if you want to know more about this god where do you turn? You can’t rely on your own experiences or personal feelings. Those shift and change so much that it’s like trying to build a house on sand.
We need to receive a special revelation. The Christian claim is that the Grand Designer of the universe has indeed revealed himself to countless men and women throughout the ages through the writings of prophets and apostles, the Bible.
But more than that, the fullest, clearest, most perfect revelation of God came as baby in Bethlehem. Jesus, the carpenter, is the incarnation of the one true God. What I am saying is that in Jesus Christ, God himself becomes a man and came to live among us. When we want to look at who God is and the activity of God, Jesus of Nazareth is the key teacher and today as we look at the three “persons” of the Trinity I’m going to start with the Son because it is through Jesus that we get a whole new and more complete picture of who God is.
The name “Jesus” means “God saves” and the Gospels depict Jesus as God's answer to what’s wrong between us and God. God comes to earth to seek us out and goes to extreme lengths to reconcile us to himself. It is quite an extreme thing to believe that the God of the universe has stepped in and allowed himself to be humiliated in order to bring about a new relationship between himself and his creation. That is a bazaar way for a god to act – certainly no god in the ancient world would do this kind of thing.
He healed, taught, broke down social and ethnic barriers, cared for those who were the least and the last in the community, challenged the arrogant and those corrupted with power. He died an awful death at the hands of his enemies and from the cross he forgave and comforted. His life and death were things of extraordinary grace. His resurrection is the seal of God's approval on his completed work of salvation.
The people who saw him, knew him, and loved
him found it hard to find adequate words to describe Jesus.
They first called him Messiah, God’s anointed liberator of his people.
Some called him the image of the invisible God.
Thomas applied the formal Roman oath of allegiance to the Emperor to Christ, “My Lord and my God.”
Some used the phrase “Son of God”.
What all these were trying to say was that
in this energetic, gracious, extraordinary Christ, God was uniquely and
crucially active. As John says at the
beginning of his Gospel, “The Word
(Jesus) was truly God. … The Word became
a human being and lived here with us” (John 1:1,14). In Jesus, the Divine was revealed as the Saviour of humanity. This was reflected in the early Christian sign of the fish which they scrawled around like a creed in code – each letter in the Greek word for fish being the first letter of “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.”
Paul describes Jesus this way, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
This leads me to saying something about God the Father. I dare say that immediately I say “God, the Father” thoughts of the Creator and creation pop into everyone’s mind, and that’s fine. He is our creator, our provider, our protector, our nurturer and the sustainer of life in our world in fact throughout the universe. We get that from the first chapters of the Book of Genesis and various other Old Testament passages but there is nothing uniquely Christian about this understanding of God the Creator. There is a danger that we limit our understanding of the first person of the Trinity to what we read in Genesis.
To really understand the Father we need to look at Jesus. Jesus reveals the true nature of the Fatherhood of God. Jesus often said things like this, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). “If you have seen me you have seen the Father” … “I am one with the Father and the Father is one with me” (John 14:9,10). In other words, “If you really want to know what God the Father is like, you can get to know him as you get to know me”. Jesus is the perfect reflection of his Father.
If I want to find answers to the questions -
does God care about me?
Does he know that I exist?
Does he understand what is happening in my life?
Does he know what it’s like to suffer disappointment, pain, distress, grief and death?
Does he feel anything when I am at my lowest and feel helplessly trapped?
Is he so far away, so aloof, so concerned with running the universe that I am nothing more than a speck – too small to be noticed?
If those thoughts run through your head then turn and look at Jesus,
look at the cross,
see his love,
see his pain and suffering,
see what he has done for you
and through Jesus see again the heart of the Father.
See the love of the Father whose grace and sacrifice knows no limits when it comes to your safety and eternal welfare. The oneness of the Father and the Son is special and unique – they are one as Jesus often said – they share the same qualities of grace and mercy and love and compassion. When we are distressed and depressed not only does Jesus know what that means for us as people but we also have the resources of God the Creator on our side to deal with everything that causes us grief.
And so we come to the Holy Spirit and the same applies here. If we want to know about the Holy Spirit – the God who is intimately in us and among us and works through us then we need to look to Jesus.
Before Christianity the people of Israel believed in the Spirit of God; that holy “Other” who touched their lives, inspired them and was always present but there was a certain lack of certainty about the term “Spirit of God”.
For Christians it is Jesus who gives content to the meaning of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus reveals the Spirit and in many places in the New Testament the
risen and ever-living Jesus and the Holy Spirit are seen as one. To be ‘in
Christ Jesus’ and to be ‘in the Spirit’ are the same thing.
It is the Spirit who leads us to doing things that Jesus would do,
to love the things and people that Jesus loves,
to be passionate about the things that Jesus is passionate about,
to be forgiving just as Jesus is forgiving and so on.
At no time does the Holy Spirit ask us to do anything that is out of step with what Jesus has revealed about himself in the Gospels.
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true” (John 14:16). See the Trinity in action – Jesus asks the Father to send us the Holy Spirit to be our helper, to always be by our side, to always be our encourager, comforter, sustainer and enabler as we endeavour to be his disciples in a troubled and conflicted world. All the words we use to describe the kind of person Jesus is are the same words we can use for the Holy Spirit who shares our lives day by day and persist in leading us into acts of true love and mercy.
Some have described Trinity Sunday as the
celebration of a doctrine that has lost is relevancy for 21st
Some see Trinity Sunday as trying to define the undefinable, the mysterious essence and nature of God.
However for me, Trinity Sunday is a celebration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, there are creeds and formulas and doctrines but they wouldn’t have anything to say about the true nature of God had it not been revealed to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is in Jesus that we see God in action in creation and redemption and we see ourselves caught up in the middle of all that action. It is Jesus that we see the powerful yet loving heart of God the Father so clearly and the pervasiveness and gentleness of the Holy Spirit so vividly.
There is only one God – that we have in common with Jews and Moslems and others. But from there we go way beyond that: through Christ Jesus the Son, we meet the God whom he called Father, and experience God’s intimate Spirit who, like the very breath of Christ breathed into us, empowers us to be a people of grace. Today we join with all Christians and praise God for the way he has revealed himself so wonderfully to us when he became one of us in his Son, Jesus.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
3rd June 2012